Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Many teens face issues of alcohol and substance abuse. This article discusses several types of teen alcohol abuse, help define substance abuse, show statistics on teen alcohol and drug abuse, and how to help a teen struggling with drinking and drug problems.

Abuse and addiction are not the same thing. Abusers of alcohol and other substances, such as illegal drugs, may also have other physical and psychological issues. They may be or become depressed or suicidal. They may have insomnia, suffer from loss of appetite, and have other health issues. They may become physically and/or psychologically dependent on whatever they’ve abused. This article explains the basics of alcohol and substance abuse.

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

There are several different kinds of alcohol abuse. For one thing, the legal drinking age in all 50 states is 21, with some special exemptions, involving family or religious settings, and some distinctions between purchasing and consuming. Nevertheless, children are starting to drink before they are even teens, some at ages as young as nine. So, one kind of alcohol abuse is illegal drinking by underage youth.

Abuse can also refer to behaviors by people whether or not they can legally drink, such as drinking to the point of intoxication, drinking to ease emotional pain, or drinking substances that were not meant to be consumed for the sake of the alcohol in them. Alcohol dependence or addiction, also called alcoholism, is clearly a form of abuse, but the two are separated when distinguishing types of alcohol and substance abuse. By these definitions, a person can be an abuser without being dependent. Even someone who binges - that is, has more than five drinks at one sitting or on one occasion if one is a man, four, if one is a woman - is not necessarily dependent. Someone who abuses alcohol uses it in harmful ways, and may get hangovers. Someone who is dependent or alcoholic has other, distinctive symptoms, including tolerance and withdrawal, that signal dependence.

In a 2008 report, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the Department of Health and Human Services reported that almost 8 percent of the 12 and older residents of he US are either alcohol abusers or are alcohol dependent. Drinking among those 12 to 20 is most common in the state of Vermont, and least common in Utah, and of the 11 million youths in that group, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that 65 percent are binge drinkers. Furthermore, NSDUH reports that on the days that underage drinkers do drink, they drank twice as much as alcohol drinkers 21 and up.

What Is Substance Abuse?

The term substance abuse is sometimes used very broadly to refer to substances other than medications and drugs, such as alcohol, but here we’ll leave alcohol out, since it’s already been discussed. Like alcohol abuse, substance abuse has some distinct types. For one thing, substance abuse can refer to improper use of a substance that can be used properly. For example, the use of a prescribed medication by someone other than the person for whom it was prescribed would be substance abuse. It can also refer to any use whatsoever of an illegal drug - a drug for which there is no accepted medical use. A third type is using a substance that is legal and that you are allowed to use either in excess or for a purpose that it is explicitly not made for. This could include combining pills that warn against alcohol use with alcohol, using a prescription medication, such as Vicodin, to excess, etc. Another example is glue sniffing: there’s nothing inherently wrong with the product, but it’s being misused.

Substances that are abused may be physically addictive, psychologically addictive, or both. They can also be deadly if taken in excess or taken along with other substances. For some people, some foods appear to have addictive properties, and in some types of therapy, they may treat these foods similarly to the way alcohol and drugs are treated by people recovering from alcohol and substance abuse.

As with alcohol, some abused substances can be abused without the user becoming dependent, but substance abuse can often lead to addiction. Treatment for people who abuse substances but are not dependent tend to differ somewhat from treatment of people who are addicted.

In a 2008 survey report, the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition and SAMSHA found that young people aged 12 to 13 who used drug, nearly half used inhalants, with about a third using painkillers, roughly 28 percent using marijuana and a little less than 10 percent using other drugs. For 14 to 17 year olds, marijuana was the most used, followed by painkillers, and then inhalants. One possible explanation for the different patterns is that younger children use what’s available in their homes, while older children have more access to street drugs.

Teens may begin abusing substances in a time when they are making other poor choices, or as an act of defiance. They may also be influenced by close associates to begin a pattern of alcohol and substance abuse. But teens are particularly likely to turn to substance abuse in the wake of depression, especially, it is thought, depression that has not been diagnosed. For this reason, it should not be assumed that a teen who is found to be abusing some substance is necessarily exhibiting hostility and resentment of authority: he or she may be trying to self-medicate depression.

Related Article: Alcohol and Depression >>